ELCA: Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was of the opinion that the Church was Christ in the world. I am an admirer of Herr Bonhoeffer, but I do not subscribe to his position on this topic for a few reasons, none of which I’m going to bother with, but I will offer the peripheral view that scholasticism is mostly bullshit.

For those who don’t know, scholasticism is the school of big-brain-bigger-ego, rational-compulsive and anal retentive writing wherein eggheads attempt to wrangle some useless theory into as many words as possible. This is the logic that leads to debates about how many angels can dance on the point of a pin and other hogwash. Martin Luther opposed scholasticism, and contributed to it by being a ridiculously prolific writer, though he did break up the monotony with frequent insults directed at the Pope, Cardinals, and anybody else who he thought of when he was on a rant. Bonhoeffer came from a family of intellectuals who thought they were a bit better than the common scum, and was a natural born scholastician, if that’s a word. He certainly would’ve generated volumes of pointless gobbledy-gook if the Lord hadn’t given him something useful to do, which he did, in fact, do and that right well. I have enormous respect and admiration for Bonhoeffer for what he did, not for what he wrote.

My own theology is very simple, because Christianity is very simple. Complicating it doesn’t do anybody any good, and kinda contradicts a couple things that Jesus said. As far as the Scripture goes, I go with the rule put forth by Augustine – if the Scripture can be read literally without straining credibility, read it literally; otherwise, it’s a metaphor. So when Jesus said “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, He meant it literally. When He talked about “living water” He was using a metaphor. This should not be taken to mean that I think the Resurrection was a metaphor, though it does strain credibility pretty hard. Really, the whole of Christianity strains credibility. The only way anybody can believe it is by the grace of God via the action of the Holy Spirit. I am able to know that a human being who is dead for three days is well beyond recall, and also to believe in the miracle of Christ’s resurrection without any cognitive dissonance whatsoever because the Holy Spirit makes that possible. I am quite comfortable not knowing everything and have no need to debate, or give a fig, about the various and sundry trivialities that various and sundry monks and professors have yammered on and on about. Predestination is an example. What difference does it make if I or you or anybody are predestined to do anything? If we are, we can’t do shit about it; if we ain’t, there are other things to do – like caring for the poor, which Jesus said to do more than once, and which He surely meant for us to do in a very literal way.

I, therefore, hold that the Church is a very simple thing: those who believe. That’s it. That’s what the Church is.

As a Lutheran, I fully participate in the Lutheran form of worship, with all the reciting, responsive reading and such. I dress up for church. I touch the water in the font and cross myself when I enter the sanctuary. I wear a crucifix. I really enjoy and appreciate all the frippery and décor of the church. I also agree with Luther that all of that stuff is “useful, but not necessary”. One of the big points that Luther fought tooth and nail about was the priesthood of all believers. All Christians are equally able to proclaim the good news and administer all sacraments. Luther also acknowledged that some people are better at some things and there’s nothing wrong with professions. You want shoes, you go to a shoemaker. It makes sense to have some people in the community who are trained and ordained to do the specific work of priesthood – we call them pastors or deacons and I’m still chipping away at becoming one of them.

Luther presented a hypothetical situation in which ten lay Christians are kidnapped by heathens and abandoned in the wilderness. For the duration of their time away from civilization, they appoint one of their number to act as pastor to the rest. That one would be fully “ordained” until the group finds their way back to a Christian land. This seems like an obvious thing to me.

The actual church buildings are certainly good, some of them even wonderful. We moderns can’t fully appreciate what it was like for a medieval peasant, used to mud hovels with six-foot high ceilings and no windows to walk into a high cathedral with light pouring in through stained glass, but we can acknowledge a beautiful church and appreciate the images of Biblical stories in the windows, and all the ornamentation. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t have Mass in any other space – we could and it would be equally church.

We frequently recite the Apostles’ Creed, which contains the line “I believe in the catholic, apostolic church”. To me, that line means that I acknowledge all forms of Christianity, I affirm that Methodists and Baptists and all of ‘em are members of the Church. There are some groups who claim to be Christian, but who act like something very different and I stay silent n those as much as possible. My opinion isn’t always necessary. The ELCA is affirmatively ecumenical, so I feel pretty secure in the knowledge that the other members of the congregation are on the same page when we all say the Creed together.

We haven’t said it together for a while now. Church was shut down in early March. This Sunday is Easter, the most important holy day in the Christian calendar. They’ll be doing a live-stream service which I won’t see because I don’t have internet at the house. It’s a bit of a loss – I’ve missed Sunday services and I look forward to being able to go again, but I haven’t suffered. My Christianity has not been negatively impacted. Actually, I feel like this time of uncertainty, when so many are afraid and so many are sick, has given me the opportunity to sit and think and feel more deeply my connection to God. It’s been during this pandemic and shut-down that I got a job which is far and away more fulfilling than any I ever had before.

There was some drama at the shelter yesterday before I got there – one guest had a mental health crisis and another was just fall-down drunk. The guy in charge was in this morning at the end of my shift and he was concerned that the guests’ behavior would “burn out our staff” and cause people to quit. I don’t share that fear. From what I’ve seen, the staff is occasionally annoyed by the shenanigans of some of the guests, but mostly just laugh it off and move on. The staff at the shelter are motivated to work with the homeless and seem to have no illusions. Some are Christians; some I don’t know. One I was talking to last night is a nursing student, so she has some motivation to help people and she’s decided to help the local homeless while she goes to college. I think it would take a lot to burn her out. For my part, I’m slightly amused by most of the drama and not likely to be bothered by a crazy or drunk. I’ll respond as needed to a situation, but when it’s settled down, I’ll let it go.

So my Christianity is not dented. I’d love to get to church on Easter, but I’ll be okay. I’ve got plans penciled in to go hiking with a friend, maybe jump in a creek if it’s hot enough. If it’s raining, we’ll stay in and watch a movie – she’s never seen 12 Monkeys and I’d be happy to sit through that again.

Christ is in the world, and He is present in the church – or Church, I never know whether to use the capital ‘C’ or not. I guess it might be proper to refer to the Divine Presence in the world as the Holy Spirit, since the Creed says that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father”, and Jesus, Himself, said that the Holy Spirit would be in the world when He was gone. But there again, it ain’t necessary to be all proper about it. But the church is not the same thing as Christ. Christ is Christ; the church is the church and as such it is something that people make. We can make it better or worse, depending on whether or not we adhere to the Bible. Luther was adamant about sticking to the Scripture, and I’m pretty sure he was right about that.

So, I’ll be back in church as soon as I can, but I’m not not in church now. My soft butch friend who I might be going hiking with on Sunday is another Lutheran, and we might invite some other folks to go along, some of whom might be Christians and some might not, but we’ll invite ‘em anyway and at least some people will be aware of the reality that Christ is risen among us everyday, and we acknowledge it on a particular day which is this Sunday this year. I carry my own church like a snail carries its house, though I depend on God to make my church Church.

Alright. Wash yer paws. Don’t get sick.

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